Archive for June, 2010

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33 Non-Rock Songs I’d Like To See In Rock Band 3: Part 3 + Scenes

June 30, 2010

Image from rofanator @ Flickr

Here’s part 3 into my working list of hip-hop, R&B, funk, disco, electronic, dance, and pop songs that I would like to see in the Rock Band series. Here are parts 1 and 2!

But first a word about exclusivity and shared experiences.

Now if any of these songs I’ve been listing were to actually go into a Rock Band game, I imagine some people would be kind of upset, that “their” game was being compromised or diluted and that it was no longer “for them.” However, I would argue that these scenesters are depriving themselves of the opportunity for a shared experience. Oftentimes I find that the people I like to hang out with are those with whom I find similar interests or at least something to go beyond small talk. If I can chat with someone about one of my favorite music games, I don’t care if our favorite songs are different. I just like that in this age of splintering interest groups I can find someone to geek out with even if it’s only for a few minutes (at least until I have a kid). We all have to interact with one another and the shared experience or interest can make those interactions a lot easier. Let’s bring others into the tent. We may not all go for the same songs, but we can all play the game.

Note: Chuck Klosterman’s essay on Johnny Carson covers this idea of the common experience in a much better way than I ever could.

Full list after the jump.

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DJ On A Dime: Promises, Promises

June 25, 2010

Image from dr. motte @ Flickr

So 911 may still be a joke, some federal judge makes a ruling that seems as in poor taste as those pro-BP remarks made by Joe Barton, and there’s some nasty sentiment against feeding the homeless afoot in San Diego, but it’s not all craptacular. U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton ups her game campaigning for civil rights abroad while extending benefits for same-sex partners of State Department employees and making the whole passport deal more accessible for transgender people. She seems committed to expanding civil and economic protections and rights to those who don’t have them and she backs up her commitments, which I can’t say for every person in power. I just hope that others will follow her example, because it’s pretty cool.

You know what else is pretty cool? Free music! This is DJ on a Dime.

Fluxblog is another of the mp3 blog old guard. Matt Perpetua (who also writes reviews for Pitchfork) has been running it since 2002, and he’s posted a pretty wide range of material over the years, though lately he seems to lean towards the whole 90% indie rock/10% mainstream pop. I give him props for occasionally posting songs he doesn’t like and offering the download as a chance for his readers to see if they might disagree. He has the new Chemical Brothers song “Snow” up for download, and I’m not sure of his opinion on it. He characterizes the track as “gently levitating through dark clouds of pollution on your way to a cleaner, brighter place in the sky,” which sounds positive, but then I demoed the track for Kathy after reading the review and this was her reaction:

“Is something wrong with your fax machine? How long is this going to go on?”

I tend to be a Chemical Bros. apologist, but that’s due to the goodwill that came from the hard synth lines and awesome rock drumming of their singles. This track is beatless, and while I understand its point, I find its execution wanting. Try it for yourself and see how you’re feeling after a listen.

On the flipside of the indie/mainstream balance we have Pigeons and Planes. P&P is relatively new to the mp3 blog scene, having been in operation for only about 2-3 years, but its posts are prolific, it covers a big chunk of mainstream hip hop and big indie rock, and the guy who runs it just turned 25. It can seem a little shady at times with its leaked tracks and multitude of file hosting sites, but if you want the goods, this is the place to go. One coup of a hookup that’s come through recently is DJ Mick Boogie’s pairing of Rick Ross and Big Boi for a mixtape where they jump on each other’s songs. It’s free and it looks to be a neat blend of southern hip hop. A visit to Boogie’s site shows a fairly eclectic taste from his past mixes. It might a keeper.

That’s all well and good, but what if you want to listen to something new? There’s some hot 80s-flavored dance music over at DISCODUST from the Los Angeles duo Jump Jump Dance Dance, which is both an incredibly inane band name and an incredibly awesome band name. The remixes of the single “Modern Eyes” from Beni and Bit Funk have some pop to them, though I prefer the airiness of the Beni mix – it keeps things carefree. Fun fact: one of the guys in Jump Jump Dance Dance was formerly known as DJ Groove Terminator, whose “How Life Should Be,” because forever linked with Progressive Insurance before they adopted Flo as their spokeswoman. Eh, dude probably made a lot of royalties from those commercials.

Meanwhile, the hits keep on coming from Electrorash. They have this neat dance-rock remix by indie darlings The XX remixed by one of Australia’s up-and-coming DJs Andy Murphy. There’s some great contour in this track – the beats are driving but I still feel as though there’s enough of the original track to make it a highlight. Good use of breakdowns too!

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33 Non-Rock Songs I’d Like To See In Rock Band 3: Part 2 + Peripherals

June 23, 2010

Image from Harmonix

Now we continue into my working list of hip-hop, R&B, funk, disco, electronic, dance, and pop songs that I would like to see in the Rock Band series.

Here’s part 1!

Before we get to the main list, I’d like to write a concern I have about Rock Band 3: peripherals. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m pumped about the keyboard. Because of that instrument expansion I feel like I can write these lists and have them not be mere pipe dreams. Plus it looks like the playing experience will be crazy fun. My concern is in the price and over-featuring of the new instruments. In the push to continuously up their game in the peripheral department and appease the series’ most vocal semi-serious musician fanbase, the new guitar and keyboard peripherals from Mad Catz and Fender appear capable of doing a lot, including doubling as real instruments and midi controllers. While this is cool if you’re into music production or if you are seriously convinced to pick up a real instrument, I feel like this isn’t going to appeal to the silent majority of more casual players, especially a majority with reduced disposable income. I like my instrument controllers to be responsive and last more than 12 months, but I doubt I’ll be getting into serious jamming, and I doubt that I’m the only one of that opinion. I’ll likely snap up RB3 pretty early into its release, but I’ll probably wait awhile until the keyboard drops in price before buying one. That being said, let’s get down to more of what I’d like to see in-game: a little trip-hop, a little g-funk, and of course, the legendary MJ.

The full list is after the jump:

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Beyond Bionic

June 22, 2010

Image from Amazon

Whenever a musician decides to reinvent him/herself stylistically, they can give themselves a new artistic lease on life and possibly increase their fanbase. David Bowie is a master of this practice. However, when an artist does a reinvention, they also run the risk of straying too far from the sound that made them successful in the first place. When U2 incorporated electronic music and crisp pop production into their Zooropa and Pop albums, they made some kickass dance music (Pop is my favorite U2 album), but also alienated many of their longtime fans. They quickly corrected course for their album All You Can’t Leave Behind, and distanced themselves from their electronic experimenting by re-recording those songs for their Best of 1990-2000 and whitewashed away their work of the mid-to-late 90s.

Christina Aguilera has made a career of reinventing herself while maintaining her identity through her cruise missile of a voice and her no-nonsense attitude. Her latest album Bionic continues her history of reinvention. Consistent with the title, the album is part electro dance pop and part clean traditional slow songs, all upholding Aguilera’s themes of sexual empowerment, self-confidence, and emotional honesty. Do the cybernetic upgrades pay off?

Let’s examine the parts. Much like her 2002 album Stripped, Aguilera supplements her talents with the aid of a solid team of collaborators in songwriting, producing, and/or performing. Overall the partners seem good matches. By working with traditionally indie acts, Aguilera allies herself with sounds that one doesn’t hear much on top-40 radio: the driving electro and catchy sloganeering of Le Tigre; the hazy vocals and bleary electronics of M.I.A. and Switch, etc. On the deluxe version of the album, Santigold and Ladytron enter the mix, furthering the album’s indie dance aspects.

I liked that on this album Aguilera didn’t give in to the temptation of going “cannon, cannon, cannon,” with her vocal performances. She knows when to back off or at least when she wants to back off. If she did an entire album of vocal acrobatics, she’d come across like Celine Dion and the end product would be one long held note. It would be boring for both the audience and I imagine the artist. Sometimes Aguilera alters her vocal style to blend into a song and give more attention to the music, the lyrics, or the performances of her guests. She may be a diva, but she is also gracious host.

This is very apparent on the dance tracks, which I really got into. Switch expands on the style he made with M.I.A. for Kala on “Elastic Love” and the title track. The music is very catchy in that off-kilter way, and Christina does a great M.I.A. impression, sometimes too well. The same could be said for the tracks from Polow da Don, whom you may know as the guy who produced Fergie’s “London Bridge,” Chris Brown’s “Forever,” and Usher’s “Love In This Club.” Polow’s production diversity is reflected in his contributions: “Not Myself Tonight” is a fairly straightforward club track, “Woohoo” features playfully percussive beats and some solid rapping from Nicki Minaj, and “I Hate Boys” is a shuffle-beat stomper that sounds like it could have come from Dr. Luke.

And therein lies the downside of 2/3rds of the album: while catchy and propulsive, it’s pretty derivative. A concern expressed by others about this record has been that it tries too hard to ride the current electro-pop wave led by one L. Gaga. Now I for one am not complaining about this. Aguilera is a bloody awesome performer and has the musical knowledge to work with the real deal in this genre. It adds further legitimacy to this kind of electronic music.

My bigger complaint is with the album’s middle third, which grinds the whole show to a halt for 6 slow, cleanly produced ballads. For Aguilera this is musically conservative territory, as the bubblegum beats, clean pianos, and orchestral crescendos serve to focus the listener on her voice, and what a voice it is! It would be garden variety diva fodder were it not for Aguilera’s lyrics. Since hooking up with Linda Perry in the early 2000s, Christina has set herself apart from her peers by combining her personal confessions with affirmations that connect her to her viewers. On “Sex For Breakfast,” Aguilera sings about fi-yi-yine slow jam sex in the morning, but focuses on her own sex drive and sexual satisfaction. If another singer of Aguilera’s stature, say, a Beyonce, were to sing this kind of song, it would more likely focus on pleasing the male partner.  Meanwhile on “All I Need,” which rides this neat minimal ¾ waltz, Christina sings a love song that’s worded ambiguously enough that one could make the case that, assuming it’s true, could be about her husband or her son.

That’s the cool thing about Christina: she comes across as very multifaceted. She’s a strong, hardworking musician, a parent, and a sex symbol, and she performs all of these roles on Bionic, often at the same time, while still connecting with her audience. Not even Eminem can claim that. She proclaims that yes, you can be a person of both style and substance, dammit, and that investing in one should not have to compromise another. Madonna may have the longevity, and Gaga may have the innovation, but it’s Christina who comes out complete regardless of reinvention.

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DJ On A Dime: Down With The Slickness

June 16, 2010

The oil spill along the gulf coast continues to go on unabated and the Prez seems paralyzed and saying the wrong things to please the wrong people, but at the same time he’s loaded with additional baggage none of his predecessors have had to carryRemember: this problem is British Petroleum’s fault. And I really feel bad for a lot of the BP employees because those gas station associates, truck drivers and middle managers are probably standing in for all of that anger and confusion that a lot of people have been feeling and have taken a lot of heat that they probably don’t deserve just because they took a job when it was available and stuff hit the fan.

I apologize for the rant.

Still, despite this craptacular environmental situation there’s free music out there, dammit, and you should check it out! This is DJ on a Dime.

Let’s kick things off with some chilled out alternative hip-hop. Amazon has a free b-side from Phashara, who hails from the Lake View area of Chicago. “Sunshine” has Phashara waxing contemplative over some rich, psyched out beats. The song feels really down to Earth and is great for when you’re feeling introspective or just want to kick back.

Keeping going on the hip-hop tip, Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes has a solo record out now. The single “Billionaire” is making waves on the radio, and Nappy Boy’s remix of the track takes it into a mellow reggae territory. Plus it features Bruno Mars on the chorus, and his soulful turn on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” was just beautiful! Some Kind of Awesome has the Travie song up for grabs. Check out the original for a more bouncy party rock take.

Some Kind of Awesome also has the new track “Tiger” from TV On The Radio alum Dave Sitek’s new project Maximum Ballon. I just found out about Some Kind of Awesome on the blogosphere. According to the site bio, the people who run it met on Kenna message boards, so there’s a great mix of rock, hip-hop and electronic posts and news. Anyways, “Tiger” is very tight in its production, the guitars have this fast-strum quality that reminds me of a 70s cop show, and vocalist Aku fronts very nicely with some old-school metallic crooning.

Finally, for some harder action, check out the Tobacco remix of HEALTH’s “Die Slowly.” Pick it up at XLR8R, one of the last remaining hip-hop/electronic music magazines to run in the U.S.! The remix sounds like some alternative rock song from 1993 thrown into a blender with “Safety Dance” and some chunks of titanium. The end result is almost hip-hop with the crunchy beats and spaced-out synthesizers. Bang your head to this one!

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33 Non-Rock Songs I’d Like To See In Rock Band 3: Part 1

June 15, 2010

 

With all the news about Rock Band 3 coming out, the big thing for me was the confirmation of keyboards as the 5th instrument. I think this opens up the door for the series to go into new genres it had previously left untouched and possibly attract new audiences. The series has already departed from a strictly rock soundtrack before, having featured a whole track pack devoted to country music, as well as some DLC from acts like Earth Wind & Fire, The Chemical Brothers, and Lady Gaga. I would love to play some hip-hop, R&B, funk, disco, dance, electronic, and pop music right alongside the rock and country. With Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock reaching back into that series’ classic rock and metal roots, Rock Band needs to position itself either through Rock Band 3 or through DLC as a multiplayer music game platform for people who like all kinds of music. Here is the first third of a working list of 33 songs that I feel could really expand the series’ audience.

The full list is after the jump:

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Crazy Circuitry

June 14, 2010

 

Janelle Monae – The Archandroid

What makes a good concept album for me is that the album’s individual songs should be able to stand on their own apart from the whole. I feel this way because even if the album’s central story is some weird, sprawling, half-baked idea, I still get to hear some great tunes. Lots of great rock songs from “Another Brick In The Wall” to “Pinball Wizard” to “American Idiot” came from concept albums and went on to great commercial success as classic/alternative staples. However, I have trouble thinking of concept albums outside the rock genre other than Mike Ladd’s Infesticons hip-hop trilogy (which just concluded) and that Imelda Marcos disco musical David Byrne and Fatboy Slim wrote. Enter the Monae.

Janelle Monae is an up-and-coming R&B singer with a story to tell on The Archandroid. It is definitely a weird, sprawling story to rival those great rock operas: time travel, cloning, secret societies, Monae having an android pop star descendant in the 22nd century who will save humanity from said evil secret society (hence the title), and Monae in the present being a mental patient having delusions about the whole story. It’s actually a continuation from her first EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite. While the sci-fi and insanity themes have been touched on before by singers like Kelis and Macy Gray, they have never been approached with the grand scope and musical range as on this album.

The Archandroid has a very maximalist feel to it. You can see Monae’s commitment to her universe before pressing play by looking at the album cover: the Metropolis artwork, the Bioshock fonts, the liner notes listing the inspirations for each song (including Stevie Wonder, Prince, Muhammad Ali’s fists, and glow of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber), and a multiparagraph synopsis written from the perspective of another character in the story.

And the songs? Oh, they more than match the mood. It’s a credit to the artistic vision and talent of Monae and her production team that they made an album with such stylistic variety from song to song and the whole thing still holds together like it’s sci-fi Grease. One thing I didn’t realize until about halfway into my first listen is how flexible Monae is with her vocal styles. The first time you hear her voice on “Dance Or Die” she isn’t singing or cooing or belting, she is rapping with a staccato flow like how Busta Rhymes used to do it in the late 90s. But a few minutes in, the music doubles in time to a rocking Motown number and she’s suddenly singing in a breezy alto on “Faster.” Monae’s singing ranges from Tina Turner scream to Simon & Garfunkel choral whisper, and she even goes into full-on GLaDOS mode on “Wondaland.”

My initial favorite songs on the album were the more upbeat numbers on the album’s first suite, especially “Cold War” and “Tightrope” both of which recall Outkast with their southern-fried paisley-funk backing, and “Come Alive,” where Monae throws all her cards on the table in a rockabilly asylum dance party. The slow-burners on the second suite take a bit more getting used to, as they have sparser instrumentation and Monae’s performances are much cleaner and restrained. However, after re-reading the liner notes and listening closer to the lyrics I came to the conclusion that the second suite is performed by Monae’s Sasha Fierce android-clone Cindi Mayweather. Since these songs are supposed to be performed by a sleek, bionic messiah in a cold, dystopian future, it kind of makes sense that the music feels sad, haunted, and hopeful. It’s a big contrast from the urgency and loony playfulness of the first suite, but that’s what makes the album’s concept – the progression of a story.

Overall The Archandroid is a damn good record, concept or not. There are some hot singles and potential hits for the casual listeners and there’s a neat album progression and nerdy sci-fi theme for the more attentive listeners. Here’s hoping this album sells a boatload so we can get more of this in popular R&B.

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The New Kingmaker

June 3, 2010

 

Now that American Idol has reached yet another finale where some boring white guy with an acoustic guitar wins, we can focus on the news that Simon Cowell is leaving the show, presumably going off to start an American version of X-Factor or something.

Of course, Fox will not just let American Idol die, despite both its loss in ratings to Dancing with the Stars and its loss two of its three original judges, one of whom is arguably the face of the program. It didn’t quit when Paula Abdul knocked off her moonbeams-and-marmalade antics before knocking off the show. It didn’t quit when the winners of some seasons were lagging in sales to runners up. The show must go on, and there must be a new judge.

On Tuesday, CNN posted a list containing probable choices (Tommy Mottola), popular picks (Bret Michaels), and longshots (Donald Trump) to replace Mr. Cowell. I think they need to spread their net a bit further, because what made Simon Cowell work as a judge was a combination of his kinda-sleazy looks, record executive experience, European origin, willingness to be mean with insults that would give the best Dirty Dozen players a run for their money, and a kind of brevity and restraint with his comments so as to make what he said count.

Here are some possibilities I would like to float:

Quentin Tarantino

Why he would work: QT has been on American Idol before both as a guest judge and as a mentor. The man is known for his impeccable music taste and experience in the entertainment industry. When he was a mentor for movie songs night on season 8, his guidance to the contestants was like a director, and I imagine that his criticisms would be similar.

Why he wouldn’t work: While it seems as though Tarantino movies come out as often as Christina Aguilera albums, I would imagine that he is very busy and wouldn’t have time to take a year off to judge a TV show, let alone several years if he is a hit. His tendency to ramble might make the show run even later than it already does and I’m tired of allocating an extra five minutes on Tivo so I can watch all of Glee, dammit!

Nigel Lythgoe

Why he would work: Nigel is an Englishman who can come off very cultured and serious which would make a smooth transition from Simon as they have similar characteristics. Nigel also had a hand in shaping American Idol, as a developer/producer of the original UK Pop Idol and a producer of American Idol until 2008. His demonstrated chemistry/annoyance with his fellow judges on So You Think You Can Dance means that he will be able to both banter and get angry with Randy, Ellen, and Kara’s shenanigans. He also has loads of entertainment experience as a dancer and choreographer.

Why he wouldn’t work: Besides his commitment to another show, Nigel may not possess the musical vocabulary of Simon. He isn’t quite as mean and he can be a lot more manic with his comments, which may take the judges excitability into overload. And he’s kind of a perv.

Justin Guarini

Why he would work: Sideshow Bob was a contestant back when it all began, going all the way to the finals in season 1 to ultimately lose to Kelly Clarkson, so you know he’s vocally talented. Since that final it’s been a long, strange trip for Mr. Guarini, but he’s been keeping busy. He’s also still cool with the Idol brand, having been a co-host for TV Guide’s Idol Wrap and Idol Tonight since 2007 as well as stepping out to support the opening of Disney’s The American Idol Experience attraction. Plus I doubt he’s busy.

Why he wouldn’t work: Judging tables are for winners and you, Mr. Guarini, choked in the big game. You would almost be required to leave the judges table in the final round. I mean….

Kelly Clarkson

Why she would work: The hell with Justin Guarini! In his karaoke memoir Don’t Stop Believin’, Brian Raferty writes that Kelly has a “vibrato like God’s car alarm,” so she is crazy talented. She’s gone on to massive success since breaking away from her Idol image and making hot dance pop rock. She’s also an experienced songwriter and has demonstrated the capacity for self-directed action which future contestants on the show would do well to learn. Plus, unlike the previous pick, she actually won the show, a first for an Idol judge. It would be like when Bill Rancic comes in to judge project teams on The Apprentice.

Why she wouldn’t work: Again, Ms. Clarkson didn’t really blow up until after she ditched the Idol crowd. There was a lot of back and forth between her and record exec Clive Davis and while she showed up for Simon’s farewell, there still may be some drama with the show’s handlers. Plus her active recording and touring may prevent her from judging year to year.

Linda Perry

Why she would work: While her upfront experience was limited to Four Non Blondes, her most significant successes have come from songwriting and producing. She’s written for Pink, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, and Cheap Trick and has scored a bunch of hit tracks including “Get The Party Started” and “Beautiful,” so she knows how to work with people with pipes and guitars. Her behind-the-scenes experience could be an alternate perspective to that of Kara DioGuardi.

Why she wouldn’t work: Another songwriter/producer may be too close to Kara and Randy on the experience tip. She’s been mostly out of the limelight, so it would be a risk to how telegenic she would be (then again, so was Kara and look how she turned out).

Madonna

Why she would work: It would be such a coup for a talent show like Idol to score such a successful artist, performer, and entertainment icon, especially one who has worked so hard to cultivate the image she has. While mainly a pop singer, Madge has adapted her style to dance, rock, hip-hop, Broadway, and covering Don McLean, so she would be no stranger to the show’s themed covers format.

She is tough and she would not mess around with criticisms of contestants’ performances, and we need a little more mean, especially with a season as boring as season 9.

Why she wouldn’t work: Someone as famous as Madonna does not have to deal with other people’s crap, and a position as a judge on American Idol would involve dealing with a lot of crap, especially in situations when the audience keeps voting for contestants who are untalented. I imagine that her bon mots against Tim Urban would make Simon Cowell look like Daria’s Timothy O’Neill

Lil’ C

Why he would work: Anyone who has seen So You Think You Can Dance knows this krumping choreographer can give beautifully-worded feedback like no other. Plus his analogies are so unique he comes off like a deliberate version of Paula, and his lucid crazy would be a good balance to the plain earnestness of Randy.

Why he wouldn’t work: Lil C is known entirely for choreography and while that is also true for Nigel Lythgoe, at least he has production experience. He will be a better fit when the contestants have to dance as part of the weekly challenges.

Sean “Diddy” Combs

Why he would work: Diddy has built the careers of many a rapper and singer. He’s an entertainment mogul who can market himself and his Bad Boy employees with awesome effectiveness. As a producer, he built his beats on high-profile samples, so he would know what songs go with which performers. His experience on Making the Band shows that he can mold young performers who have the fire. Plus he has no sense of humor or irony and he could go totally psycho on anyone who shows weakness or failure. He would make a fantastic contrast to the humor and relative niceness of Ellen and a qualified expert once the show’s producers decide to level the playing field against the guitarists and start allowing rappers to compete.

Why he wouldn’t work: Besides the risk of storming away from the judges table on live TV, Puffy would not want to risk cannibalizing the market for his own talent show. He might last as long as Madonna would in the audition rounds. Maybe less.

Rob Halford

Why he would work: “Painkiller.” Seriously, all you people advocating for Bret Michaels to be the next judge on Idol should take a listen to this guy, one of the best singers in heavy metal, if not all of rock. Bret Michaels is nice. Rob Halford will beat your ass. Besides 20+ years with his band Judas Priest, the openly gay singer has teamed up with Trent Reznor, Pantera, and Black Sabbath, and his perspectives would open the show to contestants with a harder sound and possibly to a metal audience. Plus, as all you Rock Band players can attest, “Painkiller.”

Why he wouldn’t work: Mainly the incongruity of a guy who wrote and sang “Eat Me Alive” judging a fairly wholesome TV contest. Plus I’m not sure the Ozzfest crowd would cross over to Idol, even if Halford signed on.

And those are 9 people I considered to take up the mantle of Mr. Cowell. Some are better fits than others, but that’s the fun of reality TV like this: so many possibilities.

(all static images from Wikipedia)

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The Free and the Festivals

June 2, 2010

 

With the New Depression, the failure of Top Kill and that people like Rand Paul can espouse beliefs like they do and still have careers, you need to get music with minimal stress, especially dance music! This is part of our DJ On A Dime Series, where we tell you where to find free music until things turn around.

When it gets to it, Silence Is a Rhythm Too has the eclectic taste that most mp3 blogs don’t cover. The guy who runs it doesn’t update as much as he did a few years back, but his Funky Friday posts really do bring together a wide range of music to download. My favorite songs from his most recent post are the new songs from Parisians The Gotan Project and Kansas City’s Janelle Monae. The Gotan song “Panamericana” takes their modern tango template and melds it with a steady stomp and a sleek bassline which make for excellent lounge music. Meanwhile, the Monae song “Tightrope” has her partnering with her friend and mentor Big Boi for a driving R&B song that features Monae doing a very cool half-sing/half-rap much like Andre 3000 used to do. I miss Outkast.

In the hot promo action department, the hits keep coming from the big indie electronic labels Ninja Tune and Warp. Ninja Tune heads Coldcut their buddies continue their weekly giveaways leading up to the big release of their 20-year anniversary box set. Past free downloads have included songs from the labels very first releases, DJ mixes, and rare songs that haven’t been released on CD or vinyl. Each download is available for one week only, so if the Kid Koala rarities have dropped off, it’s time for some new action! Get crackin’! On the Warp side, their music marketplace Bleep has been ramping up for Barcelona’s Sonar festival later this month by offering pairs of free downloads from participating UK acts. I can never make it to any of these festivals, so its neat to grab these tracks and rock out vicariously. The downloads rotate every 1-2 weeks, so stay sharp.

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Full Circle

June 1, 2010

 

A few days ago Kathy and I got into a conversation about artistic vision. If the guy who did that fecal painting of the Virgin Mary and Thomas Kinkade both create original works without directly copying from anyone else, wouldn’t they both be considered artists? One might argue that Thomas Kinkade doesn’t have that artistic vision, because he arguably makes the same unchallenging, bland thing over and over with little variance. Now Thomas Kinkade is one person with an army of employees to make those same paintings over and over with crazy efficiency. Does the “it’s not art because its repetitive” argument apply when different works made at different times by different people from different parts of the world all come out pretty much the same?

When aspiring hipsters want to move their music tastes “beyond the mainstream,” often the directions in which their friends will point them are towards big indie labels. Record labels are important in big indie because they tend towards a certain aesthetic and will sign acts that will fit some part of that aesthetic. In turn, certain music consumers look for labels because they like and expect that aesthetic (what comes into your mind when you think of the word “Motown?”). What a music label must be careful with is to not have so much cohesion that it becomes uniformity. Unfortunately, Turbo Recordings has fallen into that trap.

Omnidance is the 10-year retrospective of the Canadian dance label Turbo, which is run by the DJ/singer/impresario Tiga who (like DJ Sammy) made his first big impression in the early 2000s by doing dance covers of Corey Hart and Nelly. And those were pretty fun covers!

So when I learned a few years back that the guy had his own record label, my interest was piqued: were the acts he was signing this fun?

Hearing this compilation the answer is, not so much. My big criticism of this compilation is that most of the songs tend to sound the same: somewhat funky drum machine beats, hard electronic basslines, repetitive structures that aren’t quite verse-refrain-verse, and exactly one extravagant feature: a “woo!” vocal hit played rapid-fire, a keyboard stab that sounds like it was lifted from Super Mario Bros., or a Hans Zimmer-esque arpeggio.

Going through the first disc, it was telling that even though it was not DJ-mixed, I had trouble telling one track from another. I would play a song, go make a sandwich, come back and be surprised to find that the next track was playing. And I think that you would have to be very patient to find each song’s internal variation, which while there isn’t fun enough to encourage the listener to stay. That’s not to say that the first disc is boring. The instrumental songs themselves are very groovy (especially Zoo Brazil and Adam Sky’s “Circle Jerk”) and upon closer listening reveal their individualities (such as how Popof’s “The Chomper”’s skittering percussion seemingly mutates into its synth line), I just feel that they can be too minimal and don’t go very far beyond the groove.

There needs to be more going on, which is why when songs that have actual vocals come in it’s a breath of fresh air. I admit I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the words to Electric Six’s “Synthesizer” come in over the driving techno of Zyntherius (who partnered with Tiga to make the previously mentioned “Sunglasses At Night” cover) and The Dove – “You can’t avoid my techno.” Moby’s “I Love To Move In Here” gets a nice revamp from Proxy that’s more uptempo then the original while maintaining some of Moby’s late-night melancholy mood. The only real dud on Disc 1 is “Lower State of Consciousness” by ZZT, a collaboration between Tiga and Zombie Nation (whom you may know as the guy who made “Kernkraft 400”). While the time signature speeds up and slows down like a rollercoaster, the synths blare with distortion or reach “dogs-only” pitch levels, and it almost feels like ZZT were trying to make a parody of hard dance music, because I fail to see how this would be enjoyable unironically.

At least things pick up a little bit on disc 2. The material starts to branch out a bit from the steady techno grooves on disc 1. Four of the songs are less than 3 minutes long, there are more vocally driven numbers, and the instrumental songs like “Antimatter” by Compuphonic and Kolombo get more extravagant.

The stars of disc 2 though are Chromeo, a Montreal duo that combines 80s electro-dance with smooth, cheesy R&B. “Mercury Tears 2” shows the duo doing the light dance-pop that they do, but Finnish producer Jori Hulkkonen’s remix of their big single “Bonafied Lovin’”  takes the duo into the ‘70s with a smokier, slow-burning, disco soul number. Singer David “Dave 1” Macklovitch’s voice falls like raindrops against the coldness of Hulkkonen’s production, which isn’t all that danceable and pads things out too much on the front and back ends, but is a very good listen in the car or on headphones.

And I suppose that’s where one should be dancing the Omnidance – not with the expectation of high-energy uptempo fun (though that is present in small doses,) but with a patient ear that can see past the initial monotony and see the deeper layers. It’s false advertising, but it works on a low-key level (hey, Thomas Kinkade sells). I can only hope that in the future Tiga and his team continue to branch out and add more accessibility to the Turbo catalog because right now it doesn’t feel top speed.

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